The power of spin

8 02 2015

It’s highly likely that most readers of this blog will have seen this image.  It’s doing the rounds all over the internet, not least Facebook….:


I haven’t checked the veracity of the size of the squares, but for the sake of argument, let’s give the creator of this spin the benefit of doubt.

Escondida Mine in Chile

Escondida Copper Mine in Chile

To build a solar farm of any size, resources have to be dug up out of the ground.  All sorts of mineral ores, copper, iron, aluminium, silicon, oil for wire insulation, rare earths, cement for concrete footings, the list will be long.  Mining ores are now getting lower and lower in concentrations as we reach limits to growth.  Some are mere tenths of 1%, while iron ore is much better, with some reaching an amazing 60% concentration!

Aluminium ores are more like 7.5%, whilst the average grade of copper ores in the 21st century is below 0.6 percent Cu.  That means gigantic holes like that at left have to be dug to achieve the squares in the Sahara as shown above….

I contend (without doing the necessary research I don’t have time to do – and I can see a PhD thesis for someone here!) that to build the desired solar stuff inside those squares in the Sahara would entail digging huge holes 2 to 10 times as large as the squares to make the panels and associated electronics; not to mention the power lines to distribute the electricity far and wide.

The damage done to build this stuff just so we can ‘have our cake and eat it’ is mind boggling. And of course there are also the emissions of greenhouse gases generated while mining and manufacturing which have been discussed here ad nauseam in earlier posts…..  The power of spin is such that the uninformed will continue believing we can have it all, only solar powered.  We just have to fill those squares in North Africa, and everything will be cool…..



14 responses

8 02 2015
Brendon Crook

I saw this on Facebook & thought of DTM. Glad you’ve done a post on it Mike. They offer more hopium garbage to keep this culture of destruction churning on.

8 02 2015
Graham Houghton

I fully agree with you, the creation of the infrastructure would be extremely damaging to large areas of Earth and would take a very long time to put into place. What’s the alternative? Because there has to be one.

8 02 2015

It is funny that the squares have been shown located in Algeria and Libya, close to the cities of … er, well nowhere really. Are they seriously suggesting that Europe should put a squillion dollars’ worth of critical infrastructure in Libya, or Egypt, or anywhere in north Africa/Middle East, in the most inhospitable desert in the world, totally devoid of water and roads, and then transmit the electricity under the Mediterranean and across the whole of Europe, and then rebuild the entire fleet of oil-powered vehicles to electric? It would give new meaning to the over-worked expression “Islamic terror threat”.

8 02 2015

Solar can be part of the solution. But to believe that we can still have it all is indeed hopium. We are so surrounded by clutter, that we cannot see that less is better. For all the useless crap that surrounds us, are we really happier than the cave man?

Mind you the cave man was surrounded by a much richer biosphere, the hunting in suburbia is pretty thin, the wild berries non existent. I fear that our descendants will envy cave man

8 02 2015
Chris Harries

Not a week goes by without somebody proclaiming that all of the world’s energy supply can be produced by this or that. All of Australia’s energy can be produced from the tides of the Kimberley, says one. The figures always look stupendous. And the population is so desperate for a neat solution that their easily sucked in.

These claims spread all around the world via Facebook. Millions of people click ‘Like’. There’s a golden feeling in the air that that all we need to do is sit back and victory is at hand, the crisis of sustainability is virtually won.

Not wishing to be overly cynical, I must add that renewables enthusiasts are a mixed bunch. There are some who believe that society does have to ‘powerdown’ drastically, – but will still require renewable energy in the long run. This is the legitimate side of renewable advocacy.

Nevertheless, the one thing that absorbs their interest, ends of being the energy supply, not demand reduction. Solar panels and wind turbines have that photogenic quality that makes them the centre of attention. Belt tightening has a bad name.

Then there are those earnest blokes who believe that have found the silver bullet. I wrote about this phenomenon here a little while ago.

In more recent times, as solar energy prices have plummeted and rooftop solar has severely impacted on centralized power utilities, more and more citizens are concluding that renewable energy can now save the world. I’ve even heard some educated environmental advocates dispute that there are Limits to Growth.

This is the worrying side of over-optimistic messaging. It’s worrying because the signal it gives is there’s no need to worry any more. It’s a message that the broad public really wants to hear, because it obviates any need for behavioural change. It’s denial in another name.

8 02 2015

All the replies to this article make so much sense to me.
Sadly, however I believe even the most optimistic alternative energy advocate that thinks we can all go back to sleep now pales into insignificance compared to the masses who just don’t seem to even give a toss as long as they continue to get reality television & 24 hour sports coverage.

This culture at large couldn’t give a shit about alternative energy let alone powering down. They will fight tooth & claw to be able to buy cheap plastic crap until the lights go out then blame someone else………………..
This society will continue to want ever more because that’s the warped psychology they were indoctrinated with as children & now any form of saviour to their god of progress will satisfy them & their brainwashed ideals.
I don’t pretend to have any answers & I believe the whole mess is way too far gone now.
My only hope, for what it’s worth is that the non-human world won’t have to suffer too much longer at the hands of this lunatic culture.

I vent my frustration on a blog I’ve began:

9 02 2015

I agree with everything you say Brendon, especially about the non-human world.

10 02 2015
irony of democracy

irony of democracy

The power of spin | Damn the Matrix

11 02 2015

I’m assuming that “to power the world” translated into plain english (the truth) actually means… “to power the current political/economic paradigm of rich/privileged (primarily Western) nations, exploiting the natural and human resources of “developing” nations, for the sustanance of their excessive/wasteful lifestyles and continued “economic growth/recovery”?

Because (I’m admittedly no mathamagician… but) there’s absolutely no farkin’ way that square metreage of current gen solar technology is helping to bring the poor out of their abject poverty and into the world of Ducted Aircon and 80″ LED TV’s!

And of course, other than “the world” the only regions worth depicting are Europe and it’s Economic Royalists Germany. The whole damn thing just wreaks of privileged westerner arrogance and techno-optimist ignorance.

11 02 2015

I don’t have time to do the maths either… oh wait, yes I do:

But that was for a different claim. For THIS one, I measured the indicated “world” area on Google Maps, and covered it with 32,210,000,000 of SunPower’s best (345 W) panels. 100% coverage – no framing, no shading, no aisles for maintenance. Under that ridiculously optimistic scenario, the setup could power just 39% of the world’s 2008 energy consumption (total energy, not just electricity).

Don’t forget having to replace the whole thing every 25 years or so.

Detailed spreadsheet available on request. Oh wait, no its not – I’m busy!

13 02 2015
Bengt Randers

245 kilometres squared is not 245 km^2.
One 230W cell is 1,559 m x 0,798 m and weight 15 kg.
10 of those is 12,44 m^2 and gives 2,3 kW and runs 1 000 h / year.
They mean 245 km X 245 km = 60 025 km^2. If we fill that with 4 825 160 771 solarcells-packet on 2,3 kW each year for 4 year so are we up in 44 540 TWh/year but we need an area 4 times as large.

16 02 2015

Another data point: Apple’s recent purchase of solar works out to 10 acres per MW. To meet the world’s energy needs, that works out to 1/11th of the land area of Australia.

16 02 2015

That makes those little red squares far too small then……

16 02 2015
Chris Harries

Apple seems to be buying into everybody’s romance with the electric car, this having become the embodiment of ‘carbon neutral living’. I’m not totally opposed to them, but it worries me that so many well meaning environmental folk jettison good science in headlong pursuit of this romance.

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